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Jeremy Jastrzab
24 Jun, 2011

Child of Eden Review

360 Review | In a sea of rhythm and colour, it's time to get lost in the synaesthesia...
It’s been quite a long time between drinks for one of the industry’s unique developers, Tetsuya Mizuguchi. While his company, Q Entertainment, has worked on a few projects recently, the man himself hasn’t had a starring role since 2006, with titles such as Ninety-Nine Nights and Lumines II. Still, the unique ideas and experiences haven’t dried up, as shown with the release of Child of Eden. Following our preview in April, Mizuguchi himself explained how Child of Eden was the game he’d been waiting to make since Rez, but only now with HD displays and the lounge room addition of Microsoft’s Kinect has his new vision been realised.

Like Rez before it, Child of Eden is a rail-shooter with a few significant differences. The most immediately striking of these differences being the presentation, and the concept behind it - synaesthesia. At its core, the concept advocates the “subjective sensation of a sense other than the one being stimulated” – such as the sense of colour being stimulated by sound. Through an uplifting j-pop inspired sound track and unparalleled breath-taking visual style, Child of Eden is the video game incarnation of this concept. And as explained by Mizuguchi himself at the preview, playing the game is supposed to invoke intangible reward through much more “organic” methods. So rather than earning ammo or upgrades, the game is more about the reward associated with the audio and visual displays from completing your successful combos and by ‘playing’ to the beat each in-game track.

While Child of Eden is a rail-shooter at its core, it's elegantly wrapped in a minimalist story. Told through a concise exposition and accompanying video, the player’s aim is to cleanse ‘Eden’. Set in a fictitious future, the Internet has been surpassed with a virtual information archive known as Eden (this is also where Rez is set). This archive is populated by the virtual reincarnation of ‘Lumi’ (effectively, the Child of Eden), who was apparently the first child born in space. At the beginning of the game, Lumi’s utopic existence is disturbed by a virus that has infected the five major archives: Matrix, Evolution, Beauty, Passion and Journey, which are meant to represent different ‘states of being’. So in effect, the player is sent into Eden to cleanse the archives of this virus. As pointed out by Mizugchi, the key operating term is ‘cleanse’, as you’re not there to kill…

Shades of it's predecessor?

Shades of it's predecessor?
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As a synaesthesic experience, a combination of audio and visual splendour, Child of Eden is without peer. The psychedelic vibe is still there, but this time the approach is more ‘organic’ and fluid than Rez. The visuals accompanying each archive are unique, relating to the individual archive, and do a wholly intriguing job of capturing the essence of each. Rather than wasting time on descriptions, you’re best off checking them out for yourself. The soundtrack has moved onto a more j-pop vibe with shades of electric – performed by Genki Rockets – as opposed to the techno heavy track from Rez. While the first and last archives are easily the best, it’s the kind of music that won’t resonate to universal tastes. Still, if you do like this style, you’re certainly in for a pumping treat. The audio and visuals combine to create a game that never feels anything other than endearing or uplifting, and has the rare distinction transcending the need for deep and complicated gameplay.

The other significant difference with Child of Eden is it’s the first game of its type to utilise the Kinect camera. And even though you can seamlessly switch between a traditional controller and the Kinect camera, it provides the first compelling example of how this technology can be applied to a ‘core’ gaming title. Unlike Rez, the perspective has moved to first person, and a few additional parameters are involved. While using Kinect, your right hand controls your lock-on, which has been upgraded to eight locks, from five. After the lock is filled, you fire with swift gesture of your hand; almost as if you were literally firing the shots from your hand. Your left hand controls the ‘tracer’ which will fire a constant stream of bullets, and is the only way to deflect the enemy projectiles fired at you. And finally, flinging both arms into the air activates ‘euphoria’ – the game’s equivalent of the screen-cleansing bomb.

Maybe in the future, this is how we'll all be cleaning?

Maybe in the future, this is how we'll all be cleaning?
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As simple as this sounds, Child of Eden epitomises the ‘easy to play, hard to master’ mantra. And not just because it’s the first time Kinect has been used for such a game, though that does play a part. Playing with Kinect is a much more involving experience, and one that sucks you in and becomes quite engrossing once you’re used to it. And this is shown as early as the menu screen, which is probably the best and most functional for a Kinect game so far. However, the additional gameplay mechanics put a higher demand on the player, so it won’t all be smooth sailing through the beautiful waters. The kicker to why the game is better with Kinect comes from ‘playing to the beat’. In order to be proficient and get high scores, your octo-locks need to be timed with the music, which is successfully acknowledged with a ‘perfect’ notification and enhancement of the beat at that time. As such, the humble rail-shooter now fuses with the rhythm genre. And as a means of achieving synaesthesia, it works extremely well.

Playing with a controller is definitely more proficient, but it’s also much less involving. While it’s probably easier to wipe through the enemies with the controller, it’s much harder to play the game as it was intended. So it’s much harder to play to the beat of the music, and harder to get high scores. Playing with a controller as opposed to Kinect is like playing a piano by bashing the keys rather than releasing to key to as intended. Outside of this, the ambition of the presentation hasn’t always gelled as well as it could have with the gameplay. You will occasionally be foxed by projectiles, as it can be hard to tell how far from impact they are, while the increased camera control will often disorientate under the Kinect control scheme. The Kinect gameplay works remarkably well, and with little input lag, so long as you play properly – with your arm extended out and elbows as far away from yourself as possible. Still, you require a lot of discipline (so no nose scratching) and the control scheme can lose itself in frantic situations.

If this doesn't excite you, this isn't your game.

If this doesn't excite you, this isn't your game.
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Gameplay idiosyncricies aside, the main bone of contention with Child of Eden will (unavoidably) be the perceived length. Yes, you can ‘clock’ it within four to five hours, possibly less with just a controller. But just like a great CD, you don’t listen to it once and discard it; Child of Eden is an experience to the replayed over again. And not just to enjoy the track, but to chase the high scores and unlockable artwork (which is beautiful) and achievements. And as you play, more is revealed to you, with some crazy visual filters (the ‘trip’ mode is not kidding…), sound mixing options and a hard mode that is genuinely more challenging than the default difficulty. Sure, it’s a game that makes you wish there was more, but having more would have taken away from the overall experience. The length isn’t a fault, and the value is here, but only certain types of players will truly utilise it. And they know who they are.

As gaming technology gets more powerful and varied, the tools at developer’s disposal have never been greater. And Child of Eden captures so many facets of this. It’s easily the most compelling application of ‘synaesthesia’ and a wholly unique audio/visual experience. It’s the first real application of ‘core’ gameplay mechanics through Kinect, and everything from the menus to the most hectic gameplay situations displays the potential of the device when embraced by a top developer. And in the process, it becomes a true ‘rhythm shooter’. It doesn't abandon the controller, but asks that you try with Kinect, even if it occasionally loses itself. Ironically though, it’s the nature of the genre and the taste of the presentation that are its most compelling aspects, yet the ones that are most likely to prevent it from reaching everyone. For those who reject it on length and taste though, it’s your loss…
The Score
A gale of fresh air, Child of Eden compels and delights on a number of levels.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Child of Eden Content

Child of Eden launch trailer
15 Jun, 2011 Something good for Kinect...maybe?
Child of Eden Preview
03 May, 2011 Eyes, ears and hands-on... With Tetsuya Mizuguchi himself.
Child of Eden Review
27 Sep, 2011 Synaesthesia returns home.
2 Comments
2 years ago
Not usually jnto this type of game, but I'm loving it on kinect at the moment.
2 years ago
I've played through Rez more times than I can remember and I think I'd end up doing the same with this game. Still gonna wait a few months for the PS3 version, despite a burning desire to play this now.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  16/06/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Ubisoft
Year Made:
  2011
Players:
  1

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